Day 15, North Platte, NE to Twin Cities, MN:
We slept in. It was the last day of our trip so why the hell not! Sure, we had 663 miles left to drive to make it back to the Twin Cities but with so many long days in a row, it was worth it to slow down for just a bit. We even doubled down and went to Perkins for a nice breakfast. North Platte, NE was larger than I expected and the line for a table was extensive. Did you know North Platte is home to the largest train yard in the nation? I ordered the Tremendous Twelve; three eggs, four buttermilk pancakes, breakfast potatoes, and four applewood smoked bacon strips. I get it all the time, can’t miss. Back at the hotel, Maeby was enjoying an episode of This Old House when we returned. I brought all of our stuff out to the car and then we hit the Interstate by 11am (only three hours behind my original schedule).
Beth took a nap and I was left to admire the open road ahead. For Interstate 80, it wasn’t as construction-filled as it has been in the past. There were some orange cones, of course, but fewer than usual. I did see some interesting things as I drove. In Kearney, NE there’s a really random archway over the road. It’s simply called The Archway, the log structure truly stands out from the often bland, agricultural landscape. I’ve read the website for this “attraction” twice and I still have no idea why it exists.
Later, I saw a semi truck headed in the opposite direction pulling a long flatbed trailer. Being an enthusiast of wind power, I recognized right away the windmill fan blade it was hauling. It was a really fascination sight. I was surprised just how large the single blade was. I’d love to see a windmill being constructed one day. If any of my beloved readers (all thirty of you) can hook me up, I’ll buy you lunch and pay my own travel. I figured the other pieces of the windmill were yet to come on other trucks and I was correct. There were at least six trucks carrying different pieces that I saw over the next six hours. Two more trucks went by fifteen minutes later with the other two fan blades. I saw three more trucks in the next two hours carrying the large sections of mast, each thicker than the last. The final truck I saw after dinner (there could have been more I missed) had a small mast piece from the top and the rotary motor that the blades drive to create energy. Even though I spotted each truck with ease, it was much harder to snap pictures with them headed West. I only managed to get one good photo but I’ll still always remember the experience!
I’m sure Nebraska has a lot of interesting things to see and offer the traveler but we didn’t stop to see many of them. I drove for over three hours to Lincoln, NE before we stopped, and even then only because we needed gas. The prices in Nebraska were an improvement over the West Coast but we were still cognizant of finding the best deal possible. Based on a website we drove six miles off the Interstate to save $0.20 per gallon. When we arrived at the specified station, however, the price was more expensive than all the others we had passed! Duped, we made our way to the Nebraska Capitol a couple miles closer to I-80. It was a beautiful, warm day and the white Capitol building stood tall against the blue sky. Maeby had a blast running around (leashed obviously) on the wonderfully manicured green lawn while I took pictures. Considering my own lawn back home is 70% Creeping Charlie I was really impressed with it. Then Maeby pooped all over the place. Thank you Lincoln!
We did eventually get gas. After chasing a bargain we relented and paid the going rate just off the interstate. I continued driving for the next hour to Omaha, NE. It was our last planned sightseeing stop of the trip. I did my best when creating an itinerary to find fun things to do that wouldn’t have us leaving Maeby alone in the car for extended periods of time. The attraction I chose for Omaha was the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge over the Missouri River. It was the perfect outdoor activity for bringing Maeby along on such a beautiful day. If anything, it was too hot for a mid-September day but I wasn’t complaining. The bridge is in the middle of a large greenway so we parked at the edge and walked. The dog had a blast.
There is a Monument to Labor along the river made up of a series of statues and a small marina below where a jet-boat was parked. As we walked toward the bridge I noticed a large building between us and it, the National Parks Regional Headquarters. I guess they have to be somewhere but I had no idea there was one in Omaha. They had a public lobby so of course I popped inside (Beth found a bench with the dog). The building is obviously an office primarily but they did have a small gift shop and some displays for the public. This riverfront area is called Lewis and Clark Landing so a giant map on the wall showed their route seeking the Northwest Passage and the Pacific Ocean. There were tables full of Native American cultural items and artifacts. Park Rangers in full uniform, strange in that setting, were available for questions. By the elevators there is a wall full of brochures, one stack for every single National Park, Forest, Monument, and Heritage Site under the direction of this Regional Headquarters. That’s 57 parks in 13 states! I grabbed a brochure for Jewel Cave because I never got one on day two. Very handy.
Overall, I think the Regional Headquarters is well placed in that park along the Missouri River. It’s a nice area. I rejoined Beth and Maeby outside and we headed for the pedestrian bridge (the main reason for stopping here). It crosses from Omaha to Council Bluffs, IA and is a popular place to exercise for locals. We saw several people jogging and cycling. Maeby was highly interested in everything, including the one other dog on the bridge at the time. The views of the Missouri were pretty cool and it was fun to cross the border on foot. There’s a line painted in the middle marking it and a ‘Nebraska’ and ‘Iowa’ on each side. Two teen girls were taking pictures on it for what seemed like an eternity (I’m sure their Instagram accounts both needed 35 shots of their feet on the line) but then it was finally our turn. At first Maeby refused to cross into Iowa. She sat down on the Nebraska sign and didn’t move. After some coaxing she planted right on the border line. It was cute and I only took five pictures because she cooperated (and I don’t have an Instagram).
Based on time and lack of interest we didn’t complete the walk across the entire bridge. We crossed a short ways into Iowa airspace but turned around instead of trekking another 500 feet to Council Bluffs. Besides, the other dog went that way! Back at the car, Beth took over driving for the first time that day. We had arrived in the park at about 4pm and hit the road again an hour later. There was a solid five and a half hours of driving to go before home but we needed to stop for dinner first. There was a significant lack of restaurants along I-80 leaving Omaha (desirable ones at least) but I researched ahead of us and picked a place in Shelby, IA called The Corn Crib. I like to try non-chain restaurants whenever possible and the reviews were positive. We found a spot right up front and were able to leave Maeby in the car as our table was right by the window.
The restaurant/gas station is basically a big red barn. We walked in and were greeted by a dummy in overalls and a red clown wig. A horse carriage and other antique farm equipment adorn the walls and ceiling. This place was clearly decorated by a unique individual going for a farm aesthetic with a twinge of ‘Conservative Radio Talk Show Host’. There were a number of signs on the door and walls that Rush Limbaugh probably hand-wrote. The large menu is a la carte and we ordered a ton of food. Our order arrived quickly and everything was delicious. The pork tenderloin sandwich was awesome paired with cheese curds and french fries (why should I choose when I could take any leftovers home?). Beth had a mini cheese pizza and chicken tenders. We both brought extra food home. The dog watched us eat from the driver’s seat of my Cobalt and was rewarded with a couple fries.
After our speedy dinner, Beth drove and I considered taking a nap. Before I could even try, however, we crossed into a massive grouping of windmills. Like I could sleep with something like windmills around! Naps are overrated anyway. I’ve never been a napper. Even as a kid I would sneak toy cars into bed and play with them instead of sleeping. I also realized I was running out of time to catch up to Beth in our Xterra-spotting contest. For the first time we had successfully kept track of the score throughout our entire trip! I was down by four heading into the final evening. I made up two points in Des Moines, IA before the sun set.
We turned North on Interstate 35 and I rested my eyes without actually sleeping. The dog was conked out in the back and Beth made good time reaching the Minnesota border. My dad called me as we happened to be stopped at a rest stop for a bathroom break. “Are you guys home yet?”. Another hour to go in the dark but I got one last chance to claim Xterras for myself under the overhead lamp posts of the Minneapolis suburbs. I came within one but we arrived home at 11:30pm and I was defeated. The final score was 124-123. Yes, we saw 247 Xterras all over the country. It’s a more common vehicle than you think. One day fifteen years from now we’ll probably have to pick a different vehicle (as Xterras were only made for a couple years) but for now, it’s fun to play even though I lost. End of day fifteen.
Beth and I did a lot during our fifteen day adventure. We visited three National Parks (Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Arches), one National Monument (Jewel Cave), and countless National Forests (Black Hills, Big Horn, Targhee, and White River). We attended two professional sporting events (Seattle Sounders @ San Jose Earthquakes and Minnesota Vikings @ San Francisco 49ers) and learned a ton at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. I won enough money to pay for our hotel stay in Las Vegas and learned that the Bellagio Fountains don’t run when it’s windy. We only tried one new Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives restaurant on this excursion but there were more than a couple delicious lunches and dinners to balance out car snacking and hastily made sandwiches.
This trip through 12 states was 5,347 miles long. It’s not a real road trip unless it’s over 5,000 miles in my book! Our longest day was Day 6 when we drove over 700 miles from Twin Falls, ID to Concord, CA. There were a couple firsts for me on this trip. This was my first time traveling (geez, if only I’d time-traveled) through the state of Idaho, my 46th state. I had never been to Beth’s family property in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California previously, which was a cool experience. Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Denver were also new on my travel list. Maeby did really well in what could have been a fairly stressful situation on her first trip with us. I was worried about her before the trip but I would not hesitate to take her along again.
We traveled through twelve of the largest cities by population in the United States; San Jose (10th), San Francisco (13th), Denver (21st), Las Vegas (29th), Sacramento (35th), Omaha (41st), Oakland (45th), Minneapolis (46th), Bakersfield (52nd), Lincoln (72nd), Reno (89th), and Des Moines (105th). How the hell do more people live in Omaha than Minneapolis? We also passed through four State Capitals; Sacramento, Denver, Lincoln, and Des Moines.
Some of our larger expenses on this vacation were gasoline ($410), football tickets ($247), hotels ($213), food (~$200), campgrounds ($140), activities/soccer tickets (~110), National/State Park entry Fees ($80), and souvenirs (a lot). I’m not counting the money we spent on camping gear as that is reusable.
$1400 or so isn’t bad for a two week trip but we had a ton of help from friends and family. This is the part where I thank them again digitally. JT and Rayna Malmberg, family friends of my parents, gave us a room and hot meals to break up the camping adventure of Days 1-4. Beth’s relatives, Lou and Elaine Vecchi and Jack and Debbie Kenoyer put us up for three nights each and provided a bunch of food and local transportation. Elaine also paid our entry into the Disney Museum, not a cheap ticket. Tom Bomben bought us lunch and has always been very generous when we visit California. I’d also like to thank Nick, Nancy, Justin, Lauren, and Sarah for hanging out with us. Beth’s entire family makes our California trips awesome in every way. Also, a big thanks to Kelli Ramstad for giving us an awesome tour of her workplace, Google Headquarters in Santa Clara, CA. It was an unexpected addition to our itinerary that we really appreciate.
I also want to thank my beautiful wife, Beth, for taking yet another cross-country adventure with me. This was our third road trip of more than 5000 miles but the first since our wedding. We ended this trip the day before our two-year anniversary and were happy to be home with our cute dog in our recently purchased home. Even though we had a bunch of laundry to do and dreaded returning to work the next day, I was happy because we were together. I love you Beth. 1000 points to Hufflepuff for reading this entire thing. I love the dog too. Bark, woof, bark… good dog.
Thanks for reading. 1000 points to the Hogwarts house in which you reside if you read all thirteen posts. Until next time.
Trip #8 – Cannot Come Soon Enough –>